What’s happening in Kashmir? 12 August 2013
It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), but two major events have occurred there this week. The first is some serious ‘communal violence’ in the Kishtwar District of the Jammu Division of Indian J&K. The term ‘communal violence’ is a subcontinental euphemism for Hindu-Muslim troubles. In Kishtwar, this has taken the form of Muslims chanting anti-Indian slogans, to which some Hindus, who invariably are pro-Indian, have taken violent objection. Another version claims that some Muslims confronted a provocative Hindu who was seeking to disrupt their Eid celebrations, after which things quickly got of out hand. Following two deaths, a curfew was imposed on the so-called ‘Land of Sapphire and Saffron’—and now of suffering. Some Indian and J&K politicians were prevented from entering this area, much to their respective chagrin. Since then, curfews have been imposed on seven of Jammu’s ten districts. Coming around the time of Eid, the situation in Jammu Division suggests that there is significant volatility there between pro-Indian Hindus and anti-Indian Muslims in communities where neither of these populations respectively numerically dominates—unlike the Kashmir Valley where Muslims almost completely dominate numerically.
The second event in J&K is some serious fighting across the Line of Control (LoC) by Indian and Pakistani forces using small arms, light machine guns and mortars, but not yet, it seems, heavy artillery. India has claimed that special Pakistani forces from a ‘Border Action Team’ killed five Indian soldiers on 6 August. Concurrently, Pakistan has claimed that Indian forces have been engaging in unprovoked firing across the LOC, with one soldier killed and a number of soldiers and civilians wounded or targetted. Ceasefire violations have increased in the last few years. These latest violations and incidents, plus the recent downturn in India-Pakistan relations, have jeopardised the ceasefire that came into place on the LOC in 2003. Indeed, they might suggest that the ceasefire is all but dead.
However, some people in both nations still seemingly are in favour of trying to improve relations. One such person is India’s new Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh, who recently suggested when she was appointed that she would like to see India-Pakistan relations improve. Possibly fortuitously, she knows her counterpart in Islamabad, Jaleel Jilani, as their tenures overlapped in Canberra briefly in 2007. Similarly, Jilani would like to see a ‘sustained and meaningful engagement with India that would produce mutually beneficial results’. In the same vein, Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, expressed ‘sadness’ over the ‘loss of precious human lives’ in the LOC incidents and stated that it was ‘incumbent upon the leadership of both sides … to improve the atmosphere by engaging constructively with a view to building trust and confidence’. Concurrently, to ease the situation, the two generals who function as the Director General of Military Operations for India and Pakistan consulted via the ‘hotline’ on 8 August, although such meetings apparently are not unusual, nor about ‘hot’ matters. Arguably, the initially milder response to the 6 August incident by India’s Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, suggested that he didn’t want to do anything that might worsen India-Pakistan relations. However, when Antony became better informed—plus after he was severely chastised in the Indian Parliament by his political opponents—he took a much harder line against Pakistan.
It is impossible to determine exactly who did what, when and why. This reflects the competitive nature of India-Pakistan relations in which neither nation will ‘give an inch’ to the other militarily, diplomatically or politically. All one can do is speculate as to why these incidents are occurring. Seemingly, they are to do with internal politics. On the Pakistan side, the Pakistan Army may be trying to assert itself with the newly elected (civilian) government. Senior generals might be attempting to show Sharif and his political colleagues that the military can operate pro-actively and that it will not allow itself to be—and indeed is not—answerable to civilian politicians. There also may be some unease in Pakistan about post-ISAF Afghanistan in which India and Pakistan look likely to compete for influence in a nation free which will be free from United States’ involvement and moderation. The LOC ‘events’ may be some early shoring up of positions by the Pakistan side. Equally, it could just be part of ongoing LOC activities in which each nation’s military forces probe for weaknesses on the other side.
As for India’s responses to these incidents seemingly instigated by Pakistan, it is all about politics. An election is looming and strong responses to Pakistani provocations show that political parties are tough on Pakistan. Indian politicians perceive that this hardline and high profile approach is electorally popular. Certainly, they can’t appear to be weak or vacillating during an election campaign. Most likely, we will see more of such stridency until the election is completed next May. Equally, some Indians are genuinely disenchanted with Pakistani attempts, actual or planned, to cause mayhem in India. They want India to respond in kind to Pakistan’s attacks either across the LOC or as occurred in Mumbai in 2008, the so-called ‘26/11’. To this extent, Indian forces will likely respond across the LOC at a time and place of their choosing. Equally, India needs to be careful that it doesn’t disempower Pakistan’s civilian leaders with whom Indians might be able to do business.
The ‘bottom line’ is that such incidents reflect the ever parlous state of India-Pakistan relations. The big losers are the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is impossible for me to understand what they have gone through since 1947—and still sometimes endure: communalism; wars; heavy militarisation; regular and sometimes heavy cross-LOC firings; excessive monitoring by intelligence agencies and secret services; disruptive internal protests; accusations that they are unpatriotic; trade and transport dislocations; insurgencies; poor-to-freezing India-Pakistan relations; political manipulation; little or no direct consultations about their international situations and desires; etc. Perhaps someone there might be able to tell me why these events are happening and how they impact on them?
12 August 2013